Ours was a very contented marriage as long as we left religion out of it, which was all right with both of us. Because of my extremely unhappy childhood, at eighteen I left home and church, marrying Norman, a nonmember, when I was twenty. And even though I was not living my religion, I do feel the Holy Ghost guided and protected me in my marriage. Norman was a fine man and, though strongly prejudiced against the Church, agreed to let me raise our children as Mormons. I never intended to set foot in the church again myself, but my spiritual roots must have been deeper than I knew.
We were not blessed with children for fifteen years, and then we adopted a baby boy; two and a half years later I gave birth to a son. When Douglas was three, I took him to Sunday School because I had decided that my children would be taken, not sent as I had been. I had no intention of getting involved; I just wanted our two boys to get a good religious background. One of my favorite sayings was, “My bad habits hurt no one but me, but if I ever accept a call in the Church I will live the standards fully.” I felt safe, since I never intended to accept a call. But when Steven was nearly three, I was called to teach the 3-year-olds group in Junior Sunday School. With great reluctance I accepted the call; Steven wouldn’t go to Sunday School without me, so I was trapped. And I began to live the Word of Wisdom and all other commandments to the best of my ability.
Gradually I discovered that the gospel was what I needed and wanted for my family. I gained a strong testimony, went through a very painful period of repentance, and dedicated my life to the Lord. In 1956 I received my patriarchal blessing and in it the comforting assurance: “If you are faithful and prayerful the Lord shall go before you and by his messenger shall prepare the way that in due time the righteous desire of your heart, and the prayer of your life, shall be answered, and all shall be well.”
What happiness I now knew! Yet it was not without its sadness, because my dear husband would have none of it. I was stubborn and I tried to force the gospel on him. I wanted him to understand and accept this wonderful thing that I had found. With me pushing and pulling, we came close to divorce in 1958.
This crisis completely humbled me and I spent a great deal of time in prayer, putting the matter in my Heavenly Father’s hands. I knew that there must be no more pushing and pulling, no more making my husband feel guilty that he did not attend church with us. And I began trying to make a truly happy home for him. I resolved to be an exemplary and loving wife in every way and leave him his free agency. Norman, being an honorable man, held to his agreement to let me raise the boys in the Church. This was admirable, because his deep prejudice had been there since childhood. My boys and I accepted every call to serve in the Church, and we always returned home with happy smiles and love for dad. We prayed for him, fasted for him, but above all, we loved him. He was always the head of the family.
I felt I must know the gospel well in order to answer any questions Norman might ask, so for fourteen years I studied diligently—and the more I learned, the more important the gospel became. I spoke of it to him only when moved by the Spirit, and many times I received definite promptings as to what to say and when to say it. To talk about these fourteen years in just a few sentences is not really enough. There were many setbacks and much heartache, but the boys and I never ceased to live the gospel.
In 1967 Norman elected to join a religious service fraternity, and I worried that this would be one more barrier to his conversion. Strenuously, I told my objections, telling him it would lead to further prejudice against the Church. When he said he was not prejudiced, I asked, “Are you tolerant enough to go to church with me?” He didn’t answer, but later that day he said that if I really wanted him to attend, he would. So he began attending the investigators’ class in Sunday School, and within a year he was also attending sacrament meeting. Of course, the boys and I were delighted, and we will be forever grateful to the ward members for the way they welcomed him and made him a part of the ward. But through that year I could sense a great struggle going on inside him. He questioned many doctrines. (Later, when we asked him what was most instrumental in his conversion, he said that his family meant more to him than anything else, and this church’s family orientation was a strong appeal. Second, he was unable to prove the gospel wrong, so decided it must be right.) I was also gratified that we were invited to many social activities in the homes of ward members, and Norman found that we could enjoy ourselves without the need for alcoholic drinks. He also supported both boys on missions and gave brief talks in sacrament meeting prior to their leaving.
But it was the inspiring words of Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Council of the Twelve, given at the Relief Society conference in Salt Lake City in the fall of 1971, that gave me the courage to tell my husband how I felt about him joining the Church. Among other things, Elder Packer said:
“I have often said that a man cannot resist membership if his wife really wants him to have it, and if she knows how to give him encouragement.
“If you have faith enough and desire enough, you will yet have at the head of your home a father and husband who is active and faithful in the Church.
“Some who have long since lost hope have said bitterly, ‘It would take a miracle!’ And so I say, Why not? Why not a miracle! Is there a purpose more worthy than that?
“And I repeat, if your husband doesn’t feel at home going to church, then do everything you can to make him feel at church while he’s at home.
“Sisters, make the gospel seem worthwhile to them, and then let them know that that is your purpose.
“He needs to know, he needs to be told that you care about the gospel and what it means to you.” (“Begin Where You Are—at Home,” International Magazines, July 1972.)
Now an apostle of the Lord had told me to tell my husband what it would mean to me for him to accept the gospel. What a task! In our home the gospel was never mentioned unless my husband started talking about it first. I wept, trying to figure out how I’d ever be able to do it. Then I remembered the scripture, “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise” (D&C 82:10). I decided once again to fast and pray and trust in the Lord. It took me until January 1972 to find the courage to speak.
Then, one night, I asked Norman if he felt he could ever accept the gospel. He gave me a firm, but not unkind, no. Taking a deep breath, I told him how much the boys and I loved him, what a fine father and husband he had been; but, I said, he was unable to give me the thing I wanted most of all. Well, I had done it! An apostle of the Lord had told me to do it. Within six months of that night, after thirty-seven years of marriage, Norman was baptized. It was indeed a miracle.
Looking back on the months following that January conversation, I can see that many things happened to bring this about. Some friends from Salt Lake City gave Norman the book, No More Strangers by Hartman and Connie Rector, and challenged Norman to take his place at the head of his family and bear the priesthood. After our younger boy’s missionary farewell, where Norman spoke briefly, Norman’s Sunday School teacher challenged him to be baptized. Steven wrote letters of encouragement and asked his dad to read the Book of Mormon. Douglas also bore testimony to him. Though Steven had left a nonmember father behind in 1972, he returned in 1974 to find his father sitting on the stand as second counselor in the bishopric.